Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Was That Fun?

When our kids were young, we decided to treat them to a day at Disney Land. Our youngest child was four, but so tall he could get on any ride the older children could. As we entered the gates of the park, the older children led us to Space Mountain because their friends had said it was the best ride there. So we got on and all of a sudden me and the littlest were hurling through the dark space on a crazy roller coaster. The little guy suddenly seemed so tiny and I held him tight, fearing he could fly out of the car, all the while wondering what had possessed me to traumatize him. He didn't whimper or cry. He just pressed his little body harder and harder into my side. As soon as we stepped out of the car, the other kids came running up, excitedly declaring how fun the ride was. I looked down at the littlest's sweet face and he looked back at me with eyes wide open and asked, "Was was that fun?" The other kids of course responded that it was and as I glanced up another mom locked my eyes and we shared a knowing look of sympathy for the little who wasn't sure he would define that experience as fun. He asked repeatedly through the day if rides were going to be fun?"

It reminded me of the early years of my marriage when I was having our babies. For about 8 years, it was not uncommon for me to be awakened by a child to either nurse or who needed comfort following nightmares. This was many years ago and at the time, there wasn't much on TV after midnight. So, I watched a Christian station. I was just learning to study the Bible and I wasn't super grounded in the Scriptures yet. There were some pastors on the station that taught that if life was hard, all one needed to do was come to Jesus and life would be happy and problem free.

Well, I had Jesus, but those years were really tough years. I loved being a mom, but I went through really difficult things during those years. My parents divorced and no one told me about it until my dad called to tell me he had remarried. We had a furnace that blew and just about burned down our home. Then I awoke one night with a strange man standing over me during a pregnancy, surfacing old traumas and PTSD. Next we purchased a home with a certain kind of loan and the government froze the funding for those loans and we sat in limbo, waiting to see if we would be allowed to continue living in the home. On top of that, the lack of sleep because of the break resulted in a postpartum depression that darkened my life and my thoughts and deepened the loneliness I experienced as a grad student's wife. And then there was the add the normal kids fighting, the stress of baby sitting additional children to help make ends meet, extended family dysfunction, and broken relationships I grieved. All the while I had a past  crying out to be healed, but I didn't have the resources for the help I needed.

However, the worst thing about it all wasn't the things I went through, but the feeling of failure and the toxic shame that dug its roots down deep into my soul because I wasn't feeling happy as a believer. I experienced happy moments, but I was struggling to keep my head above water and feeling overwhelmed by dark thoughts and feelings I didn't understand.

I found myself asking the question our son asked--Is this fun? When I reached the end of my proverbial rope, I found the courage to talk to our pastor and there was several things he and God did that were helpful. First, he cleared up my misconceptions about the Christian life. He did this through his teachings and he did this through a crash course on the Bible verses dealing with suffering, making sure I understood the things and feelings I was experiencing were simply apart of life; not a reflection on me, my salvation, or a reflection of what God thought of me.

And God, He provided a spiritual mom, spiritual sisters, and such sweet Christian friends that loved, supported me, and cared about the things I was going through. Sadly, the shame had caused me to hide what I was experiencing and at first no one knew what I needed. But once they knew, they helped in many ways. Friends came by often. They either brought food or came and cooked dinner for my family as I caught up on chores. Friends came and read to my children so I could fold the mountain of laundry that accumulated over the week. Friends kept me company as my husband studied. Friends loved on my babies so I could rest, breathe, and just laugh. My spiritual mom called me every morning before she went to work, listening, advising, encouraging, and evoking at least one belly laugh before she'd hang up. There were other ladies whose kids were older who visited both by phone and in person, helping me learn to be a better mom and to trust God in the hard. And there were peers who threw pot lucks and discussed Scriptures and those conversations helped me fall in love with the Savior.

On top of that someone told me about a ministry called Bible Believer Cassette Ministry and I listened to all sorts of great teachers as I washed dishes including, Jill Briscoe, Elizabeth Elliot, James Dobson, Charles Stanley, and Chuck Swindoll, As I write this I can still hear Jill's voice echoing in my head like it was yesterday.

I think sometimes even us strong believers take verses out of context and slap hurting people with them. I think of one woman who shared her fear of facing her second round of cancer and chemo, being told she was sinning as they quoted the first part of Philippians 4:6, "Do not be anxious for anything..." As someone who has struggled with anxiety, I know it is sometimes hard to settle the mind and go to prayer and I wonder why the person didn't acknowledge the fear being confessed with grace and and offer in the moment to go to prayer with her. I also wonder why she didn't do as my friends in Mississippi did and check on her repeatedly as she walked that life-and-death journey.

I remember being told in a conversation over a broken relationship that the tears I was shedding were proof I wasn't as close to God as she was. I was shamed at the time, but now I know those tears were a sign of God's heart actively working in me. He is a God grieved by children struggling to love well.

There are those who have dealt with miscarriages, infertility, infidelity, and kids with heart defects and cancer who have been told to just trust God more, when what they needed was someone to cry with them in their grief and to walk with them in their long season of suffering. There are those who have been told their child isn't healed because their faith wasn't strong enough. Maybe what they needed instead of judgment was someone to pray with them for the endurance, the courage, and the hope that needed to get through the next day, the next week, the next year, or even the next decade.

I have come to believe God wants His people to not just do acts of service, but to emotionally connect. That means we have to be willing to feel and to love as He loves, which includes weeping with those who weep, and rejoicing with those who rejoice! That means being willing to emotionally enter the mire of others' lives, sharing in their suffering. It means letting them empty their minds of the questions, dark thoughts, and doubts so that God can renew their strength and we can earn the right to gently remind them of what is true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely.

Suffering with Jesus is always redemptive, especially when we don't shame those who are suffering. Suffering allows us to know Him. The Bible tells us there are crowns given for remaining steadfast in trials and I know if I earned crowns it was with the help of friends and I want to do that for others so we can all lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus!

Paul talked about the importance of suffering in Romans 5:3-5, "...but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." We want to be sure our responses to others suffering do not add additional suffering or get in the way of God producing His endurance, His character, and His hope through their suffering.

I recently had a conversation with a friend from a former church who had gone through a year of severe suffering. He told me that he never felt so close or so blessed by God in his whole life. He and his family were loved well through the long year, making it possible for God to complete His work in that season of His life. What a testimony he, his lovely wife, his children, and his grandchildren are to the faithfulness of a great big God who did His loving work in our friends' time of suffering suffering.

"Was that fun?" Maybe that isn't the best question for us Christians to be asking. A better one might be, "Is there joy in the journey?" Joy comes from knowing Him and from the fellowship of suffering as He suffered.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!